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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I will be having my second child in a few weeks. My mother is coming from her home in Malaysia to help for the first month I am back from the hospital.

I am grateful for her help, but I am also worried. She strongly believes in spanking and slapping her children and grandchildren. I was raised that way. In Asia, spanking is a common form of discipline in schools and homes. I am against it.

Last night, I was talking to my mother on the phone. My 3-year-old daughter was tired and began crying. I told Mother I would call her back after my daughter was asleep. My mother told me to slap her. I was horrified.

I told her I do not spank or slap my child. My husband and I believe in "time-outs." My mother doesn't think they are effective. I told her that slapping a child could cause damage to the eardrum and deafness. I even told her that when she spanked me as a child, I hated her for weeks. It made me a more rebellious kid. Naturally, she disagreed. She said she had spanked my nephew with a cane a few days earlier.

Abby, what do you suggest I do to "knock" some sense into my mother's head? I don't want her to spank my 3-year-old when she cries. -- DESPERATE MOTHER IN TEXAS

DEAR MOTHER: A good talking-to is a far more effective way to discipline children than hitting them. Corporal punishment not only destroys a child's self-esteem and trust, but it also enforces the idea that "might makes right."

Hitting a child when he or she misbehaves means that the adult has "reacted" instead of using the situation as an opportunity to teach more appropriate behavior. Children learn best in an atmosphere of cooperation, through teaching, discussion and observing adults who display responsible, loving, self-disciplined behavior.

When your mother arrives, you and your husband must make it clear that you will not tolerate hitting or slapping. Explain that you want your daughter to love her grandmother, not fear her and dread her arrival. If the child should misbehave, make it clear that you or your husband will handle the discipline -- and then show her how you do it.

Contrary to popular belief, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Perhaps your mother will learn from your example. If she doesn't, she must not be left alone with her granddaughter.

DEAR ABBY: Your recent letters about people during World War II who betrayed themselves by customs and mannerisms reminded me of a joke that made the rounds during that time: If military guards were on duty and a stranger approached, the guards would ask him to prove he was an American by singing the SECOND verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner." If the stranger knew the words, the guards knew he was a spy. -- KATHRYN WEEKLY, LAKELAND, FLA.

DEAR KATHRYN: Funny! Even if someone knows the lyrics of the first verse, the melody is so difficult to sing that few true-blue Americans have mastered it.

DEAR ABBY: As a baby boomer "coming of age," my hair has gone from brown to 60 percent gray. When filling out forms and documents that ask for color of hair (like driver's licenses), what should I write? -- PRE-SENIOR MAN IN ARIZONA

DEAR PRE-SENIOR: Since you're more than 50 percent gray, I'd say it's time to grin and declare it.

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